Consistency is Key (to Success)

More than anything else, it’s showing up every day that will bring you success.

Do you want to become successful as an illustrator? One of the requirements is passion. You have to love it to do it! Another requirement is the mixture of skill and talent. Regardless of natural ability, you need to have both hands-on and conceptual skills. Any talent you have will make this easier and more likely for success. But passion and skill are only the beginning. They are nothing without consistency.

“Inspiration is 99 percent perspiration, 1 percent inspiration”, goes the old adage (attributed to Thomas Edison). What is this perspiration but dedicated, continuous work?

In 2021 we don’t like to talk about work ethic a whole lot, but I’m a fan. The idea that “hard work is virtuous and worthy of reward” may seem to go against a lot of what we are learning today about equality and equal opportunity. I’m not saying those who do not have a strong work ethic are unworthy of care, concern and a decent quality of life. What I am saying is that no matter what you believe, only those who show up every day to do hard things will come out on top.

This hard truth shows up in my life often. One example related to my professional life is in my efforts as a YouTuber. I am fairly sporadic about publishing new content. I don’t post often or on a consistent schedule. So, while I do have a good base (I’m not going to shrug at 5,000 subscribers!), I know that, after 4 years of posting videos, I could have many times that number. This slow growth and low engagement on most of my own videos is the natural outcome of my work ethic on the platform. I do not show up often enough for my content to take flight.

I’m not blaming consistency alone either. Whether I’m consistent or not, my content also has to be good. This goes back to skill and talent—there is the possibility that my videos are not at the highest level of quality in these respects. But to my point about consistency, if I was showing up more consistently and being more consistent in the structure and production value of my videos, I would be getting more practice. Showing up consistently means I’m constantly honing my craft. I’m getting better with each new effort, and the closer together these efforts are, the more momentum I have—the more the net results will be. Showing up, on its own, will improve my chances of success (through exposure); but showing up consistently also makes me stronger each time.

It’s just like in running: you can’t run once a week and expect to get stronger. You have to run at least 3 or 4 times a week to truly see gains in strength, speed and endurance.

What separates the successful from the strugglers? People who are successful know the value of struggle and are able to turn it into something good. Successful people are not strangers to struggle. They even go through long periods of feeling quite unsuccessful. Successful people face doubts, fear of failure, temptation to quit or settle into complacency—just like anyone else. The difference is they push through these things. They work hard. They don’t rest for too long. When there’s a problem to solve, they get cracking.

As I write this, I worry that I am alienating people who are in the midst of struggling. I worry that I am pointing an accusing finger at people who feel like failures. I worry that I am elevating myself as a key example of success.

I’m writing this to myself as much as to anyone else. I am lazy. I go through long periods of taking things for granted. I start assuming that good things will come to me without effort, because of all the hard work I put in yesterday. I start to feel entitled. I am the reason that the cautionary tale of The Tortoise and the Hare exists. In so many ways, I am the hare.

Also, there are some areas where I will more naturally find more success, because it is easier to put in the work. One’s work ethic, especially in a given area, is not always a choice. I have no work ethic in realistic painting, for instance. Finding success means paying attention to where your own work ethic exists. Then, you make the choice to feed it, to focus your efforts on that one area as much as possible. This is why I am not a 100k subscriber YouTuber. This is why I am not a great investor. This is why I am deficient in many more important areas of life. That is how some people can be great in their jobs but suck at life.

Work ethic isn’t everything, but it is a thing. In a way, it’s a talent unto itself. Or maybe that’s what talent is: it’s your ability to focus and work on a specific thing, and that’s what makes you better at it than most.

I’m pretty sure you have a good work ethic. I’m pretty sure you have what it takes to focus and put in long and consistent hours into something meaningful, and to become successful at it. Make it your job to seek out and find what you can work hard at. There is no way around it, though: you reap what you sow. You get what you give.

If you want to become successful as an illustrator, you need to consistently show up. Whatever it is you want to improve in, work at it daily. When you have work to do, get it done. Aim for a sustainable practice of doing things and getting them done. If it’s drawing every day, set a reasonable goal that you can accomplish—maybe stick to 5–10 minutes tops. For me, right now, it’s writing. I’m writing at least 15 minutes each morning, 5 days a week. This is my 41st day. Since I started writing just over a month ago, I’ve gone from zero to over 150 followers here on Medium. I had no idea people even still used Medium. Last week, I even became a Top Writer in the Art category. Just by writing every day.

There are countless examples I could give where consistency yields success. I will spare you the redundancy. I would just encourage you to consider what it is in your own life what you have been most successful at, and see how consistency has played a role. Look at your goals for your art as well: what do you want to achieve or get better at? What could you do more consistently, and how might this yield more success?

Success is the result of factors that are within and outside of our control. We can’t control whether we love something. That’s something we discover. We can’t control whether we have talent. Again, that’s something we discover. But we are in control of how much effort we put into building on our talents and cultivating our passions. Whatever it is that you love most, let that passion fuel your efforts, every day.

Illustrator. Creatively Empowering Teacher/Speaker. Represented by Making Pictures/UK & Dot Array/USA. Top Teacher on @skillshare.